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The two sides of identity politics

Are identity politics necessary? Or is strategic divisiveness impeding progress?

Read on for more on two opinions regarding identity politics by Stacy Washington, a nationally syndicated radio host, Air Force veteran, Emmy nominated TV personality and 2nd Amendment supporter, and Don Kusler, the national director of Americans for Democratic Action.

Point: Identity politics — racist or necessary?

By Stacy Washington, What happens when a
Photo Credit: AP

By Stacy Washington,

What happens when a person hears the phrase "identity politics"? For most it's a total shut down, fight or flight response; whites gear up for a confrontation, which starts and ends with them being labeled a racist without any evidence to support it. For blacks, an assumption of the victimhood cape can ensue, with disastrous consequences.

There is a level of exhaustion with the discussion of race that right now is quite telling. Those most eager to discuss it cannot get enough: it is a drug by which they live and breathe. For people who have work to do, lives to live and a sense of propriety, there is simply no time to discuss the malevolent topic of race relations and identity politics.

If the goal is to lessen the effect of interactional slights between individuals, a mature approach mandates that every slight cannot be attributed to race.

Successful people know this, and live out the assumption of the best motives until proven otherwise. This takes a great deal of effort, as one has to be prepared to be slighted and not strike back in kind.

Is the act of discussing race racist? Or does raising the topic represent an act of civility that should engender an openly measured desire to engage? This is the most difficult aspect: Those accused of racism are immediately unwilling to discuss race; what is the motivation to do so if you are already guilty?

The subject is so polarizing, and leaves out a most important distinction: People who are willing to discuss racial issues are least likely to be virulent racists, but will endure the brunt of being called racists for doing nothing but engaging. This deters others from joining the fray, as it is a zero sum equation for them.

There is an elephant in the room: Time spent discussing the minor and major slights of individuals is a waste in light of the truly devastating effects being withstood by over a quarter of the 38 million blacks in America today; a raging out-of-wedlock birthrate; an outsized dependence on government programs for basic survival; inner-city crime rates that rival third world nations; improving, but still below par, educational outcomes -- specifically high school graduation rates and secondary education achievement. And the growing sense that there is no way for blacks to access the undeniable successes other minority groups attain; even those from African nations, who come here, start a business, move into affluence and grow wealth.

No national discussion on race will ever replicate the results of immigrants hailing from Asia and the African continent. While we talk, they are living the American dream through hard work, determination and a refusal to discuss race publicly.

Identity politics has brought ideas to the forefront that previously would have been roundly mocked and derided for their utter foolishness. Take the most recent assertions on language ability: speaking English used to be the norm and an inability to master it was not an option. Now there are prominent members of K-12 education academic leadership community who regularly posit that blacks are unable to learn English and should be permitted to speak "ebonics" as a way of respecting their "culture."

Is poverty a culture? Is the act of speaking English well a denigration of one's cultural history? Ridiculous! This statement is utterly, completely, insultingly and perniciously ridiculous. Being poor isn't a culture, at least not in a way that should be preserved or honored with it's own language. Back when creating new words wasn't a lofty activity in which many aspired to participate, the term for a language variation unique to a certain subgroup was shibboleth. It certainly wasn't a compliment to be deemed in possession of one.

It is within our grasp as Americans to state with confidence that certain behaviors and modes of being are preferable to others using history, data and statistics in support. Doing so can free millions of our poor to go hard after their goals and attain them without checking to see if their privilege or lack thereof would permit them to do so. It matters not whether identity politics are racist, what matters is are they effective in curing what ails our society. Clearly the answer to that question is no.

Counterpoint: Is strategic divisiveness impeding progress?

By Don Kusler, At its core, politics
Photo Credit: AP

By Don Kusler,

At its core, politics should be about policy. Determining what is best for the whole, debating the details, and implementing tools for successful outcomes.

Unfortunately, politics is far more often a divisive power play masked as policy.

Division is not new. Americans have been passionately debating the details of policy since before the nation was officially founded. At times it has been ugly, racist, sexist and damaging. However, the passionate differences that were once debated and navigated for the common good have devolved into hostility and isolation.

The dawn of the internet age has only accelerated this. It is far too easy to disseminate hateful, biased, inaccurate or downright false information these days. It is far too easy to delete, filter, ignore or dismiss genuine information. And, it is far too easy to simply hide among those people and ideas with whom we already agree. All this easy division has created an insulated bubble of incomplete, at best, and completely false, at worst, realities for most Americans.

Politics of division feeds on our most basic, often irrational and ill-informed, fears and prejudices leading to tactics and language that are often elitist, sexist or even racist. No political party or personal ideology is immune at this point.

Perhaps candidate Donald Trump, the official and unofficial campaign, exhibited the worst of a trend two decades in the making. His exhibited sexism and spoken racism paired with a general tone of anti-elitism culminated in an Electoral College victory marked by geographic and cultural division never seen before.

Democrats are not innocent in this, though. By running campaigns that largely ignored or simply failed to connect with non-urban voters, Democrats divided themselves having the effect of validating many of the divisive messages coming from the Republican camp. While not as brazen or disruptive, this segregation of thought and connection has the same consequences.

The result is that the two major parties are genuinely in disarray. All but the most blindly loyal partisans are up in arms or steadily becoming so. And, our policymaking bodies can only lay claim to rhetorical "victories" born of more division and not actual legislation with any chance of solving the real problems Americans face.

Health care, education, jobs, secure retirement? These are merely tools sharpened with partisan whetstones to cut us into pieces for perceived political gain. Whether you consider yourself conservative, moderate or liberal ... this is no path forward.

You'll find very few people who will say they don't want quality health care, a good education, a solid and fruitful job, and the security and means to retire gracefully. Yet, instead of sitting down in our living rooms or coffee shops or in legislative committee rooms to iron out our views on how we provide these essentials, we have chosen to allow ourselves to be divided by our differences rather than strengthened by our common goals.

The only people winning in this strategy are life's day traders who just care how much money they can make today without concern for how it's made, who it hurts, or what damage it does tomorrow.

How do the rest of us, who are not day trading in political and profit driven power, stop allowing ourselves and our lives to be traded back and forth in the scheme? How do we regain some sanity, shared interest and success?

We must talk to each other, listen to our differences, share our views, consider what common ground we share, and debate the details of how we achieve our common goals together. Not as people of one skin color or another, not as conservative or liberal, not as people of one religious faith or another, not as immigrant or female or LGBT or rural but as people seeking health care, seeking education, seeking good jobs and seeking security together.

This simply cannot be done within the current campaign context bent on division. It simply cannot be done over the internet in memes and the sharing of tilted articles. It simply cannot be done in a week, a month, or even a year.

Destroying divisiveness, developing understanding, achieving common goals even out of our differences must be done face to face over time. Bruised egos gotten from extending ourselves beyond our comfort zones can and will heal but continuing to make deep cuts through our current political discourse may forever divide us.